Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nowhere to Go

So you find yourself at an IEP meeting that you never really wanted to go to, having to say things that make your heart hurt, and trying to figure out what can be done to keep your child from losing ground until you can have another IEP meeting that will make your heart hurt and try to actually do something useful.

Wait, I think that might be every IEP meeting.

There's a lot to make my heart hurt right now.

I had to admit that Joey cannot hold his own in a "mainstream" classroom without support. And not just any support, he needs specialized, experienced, trained support to be successful in there. And that is something the school not only does not have, but has no time to create or hire for this year. A para, we could probably locate. An understanding teacher, apparently not so much.

But it got worse. If we take him out of this room, where do we put him?

Let me back up a minute to give you a better picture.

One of Joey's outstanding strengths is his grasp of math. He loves it. He breathes it. He perseverates on it. HE finds it logical, sensible, comfortingly regular and patterned. Math. It rocks.

At the start of third grade, I was called into the principal's office. I was nervous, as we had already been running into tough bolting situations with Joey by then- and it was a new behavior, so we didn't know the signs yet. TO my surprise, he was suggesting we might want to move Joey up a few grades in math, if we could find someone to teach him. He had just passed the end-of-year tests for both fourth and fifth grade. However, they didn't move him, because he didn't pass the third grade test, and there were some holes in skills- so hey, we had time to fill them, and use math time for social skills practice. I should have made them move him up.

Joey's favorite car riding game is to shout out math questions and answer them. Sometimes he does the shouting. Sometimes the answering. It's all awesome to him. And I'm not talking namby-pamby, simple-arithmetic stuff. I'm talking 34X78. No, you have to do it in your head. And you have about five seconds.

When Joey does well for his school speech therapist, she allows him, as his treat, to do a math problem. Right now, he's in love with long division. Only he doesn't like to write it all out, because that's messy. If he absolutely has to write it out, he'll flip the paper over, re-write the question, and the answer, so it looks tidy. He will work hard so he can have his math problem.

He also loves to watch other people do math. One of his favorite treats last year was to watch one of his other teachers, who was a bit of a math wiz, do long division on the white board. It made him giggle to see her do it so fast. I found out this week that he'll giggle when I do it, too. And he'll work hard for a treat of watching you do math super fast.

This past quarter, he got a C in math. And the reason? He was flunking math tests, big-time. He got 40 on his 9 weeks test. This quarter, we started off with a C on his fractions test.

Does. Not. Compute.

Was it one of those "holes" that needed to be filled? I looked at the paper, asked him the questions. He responded immediately- and correctly. So I asked more complicated questions. Still correct. Still immediate.

Does. Not. Compute.

So as part of the IEP meeting, we confronted this enigma. The excuse? Well, there are more word problems now, because the SOL is "more rigorous."

After we cleared up the meaning of the word "rigorous" (after all, the test isn't asking for more relevant skills or higher degrees of mathematical knowledge- it is simply adding a bunch of language to process), the conclusion was stated point-blank by our administrator: the problem wasn't the math. It was the disability. Joey has a language processing and communication disability, remember? And guess what is NOT accommodated when you plunk a bunch of language-heavy tests in front of him?

I'm not even going to start with the problem of doing this on the SOLs, and the discriminatory obstacle it is going to put in front of my child (what do they want to test? Math ability? Or language comprehension and test-taking ability? That's rhetorical, BTW. Unfortunately, we know the answer there). I just laid it out there that I don't give a damn about SOL tests, because they are useless. They are poorly designed and poorly administered. They disregard a child's developmental level- or even the appropriate developmental ability and level of any age group- making the tests nearly impossible to take in the first place. They are "scaled", but not to an scale that would be remotely useful for comparing the scores to anything else known to man. They teach kids more about how to get through testing than acting as evaluation tools or helping kids learn anything. They can't even be used as data points for a child's progress or level of ability. They are useless, stressful, inappropriate trash.

But back to Joey. If you want Joey to be able to handle word problems, you have to teach him how to handle word problems. We've proven that before. When you teach him the key words and what they mean, he does fine. They become part of the puzzle, part of the pattern, and it is all good. If Mary has six apples and Johnny eats three apples, how many apples do you have left? "Do you have left" means to look for a subtraction problem. The big number probably comes first. The little number comes second. Bingo, 6-3=3. Johnny and Mary are left with three apples. Almost every word problem has these patterns, you just have to teach them- especially to kids who have language processing disabilities.

I'm not sure why a decent teacher would not pick up on the problem here, or its solution. Kid has no problem with math. Kid failing word problems. Stop and teach kid to decode word problems. Problem solved. Heck, I'd be thinking of that even if the kid didn't have a known language processing disability. Lots of kids trip on word problems.

So, we have no trained, experienced support, and a teacher who has no concept of language processing disabilities or how to accommodate a child with them, she just flunks him. Then she lets him leave her classroom without even watching to be sure he gets across the hall, and thus he ends up in the parking lot. Or at least at the door. The story kinda got changed at the meeting. Again. Communication even between the staff appears to be in shambles.

Time to get him out of there, before someone gets hurt. Or has to be bailed out jail. You get the picture.

So, where to go? What do you do with a twice-exceptional child? Where do you place a child who has serious disabilities in language but is brilliant in math? The self-contained room is not designed for that. The inclusion room is not designed for that. Both of those are designed for a slower pace, not a faster one, in the lesson material. How do you keep the math coming, while working on the language? How do you fight boredom while addressing challenge?

The fact is, schools are not set up to deal with children as individuals in any way. Special ed is "so expensive" partly because regular classrooms are not designed to deviate or flex. Regular ed teachers are not trained to deal with a diversity of student needs, only a narrow scope of student skills- specific skills at that. Special ed is a whole different way of understanding kids and how to teach them effectively; a way that would benefit all kids. Most of the special ed "techniques" I've seen are just plain old good teaching. Yet, there are those who need something different. Something unique. Something individualized.

What, you mean, like an IEP?

Right. An IEP with nowhere to go.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thank you!

A big THANKS to all my awesome Cafepress/Joeymom's Autism Awareness Bazaar customers. This last check paid for TWO therapy co-pays! You guys ROCK!!!!